Free tax preparation services help you keep more of your hard-earned cash

MUSKEGON -- Goodwill Industries of West Michigan is the leading organization in a coalition of local human service organizations called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Services for West Michigan (VITA) which is partnered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to ensure eligible taxpayers claim and keep all of the tax credits they are eligible for.

The group provides free tax preparation services for low to moderate-income families and individuals helping them maximize their returns by identifying significant tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

“Unfortunately, about one out of five people who are eligible for EITC do not claim it,” said Goodwill Tax Program Coordinator Carl Lewis. “With an average credit of $2,400, these refunds can make a huge difference for struggling families – helping them to stay in their homes, pay overdue bills, and put food on the table. Last year more than $3 million was returned to our local community.”

To qualify, individuals must have a household income below $60,000. Appointments for tax services are required at all locations and can be scheduled by dialing 2-1-1 or toll free 1-877-211-5253. Appointment specialist will be taking appointments after January 18. Appointment coordinators will verify eligibility and list the necessary documents that should be brought for tax preparation.

Eligible filers can choose from three ways to have their tax returns prepared: they can opt for full-service assistance with an IRS-certified volunteer, they can select self-service with assistance with free use of computers and software at select VITA service locations, or they can file from home using the online tax program www.myfreetaxes.com.

These free tax services are offered at 9 locations in four counties through April 15. Dates and times vary by location and are offered weekday mornings through evenings, and several Saturdays. The first appointments available begin on Wednesday, February 1, with volunteer tax preparers who have completed at least 20 hours of training in tax law and electronic filing of tax returns, and must pass IRS-certification tests.

The program wanted to emphasize to the community that beginning in 2017, a new law requires the IRS to hold refunds on tax returns claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until mid-February.

Under the change required by Congress in the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, the IRS must hold the entire refund — even the portion not associated with the EITC and ACTC — until at least Feb. 15. This change helps ensure that taxpayers get the refund they are owed by giving the IRS more time to help detect and prevent fraud. As a result, these refunds will begin to be released after Feb. 15 and will likely not be deposited into personal accounts until the week of Feb, 27. 

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